Streetcar Rails and Buy America Issues

You would have thought that the Department of Transportation (DOT) gathering on producing streetcar rails would be a little get together with little fanfare.  But the story is much more intriguing and will have a major impact on the construction of streetcar projects in the United States.  Ultimately,  Buy America requirements mean that any steel used in a project such as streetcar or concrete embedded LRT rails be bought in the United States.  The problem is, the rails for street running rail are not forged in the United States.

According to a Trackway Design Guidelines report put together with the help of the APTA Streetcar and Trolley subcommittee there are big reasons for using specialized girder rail.

“It provides a minimum width of flangeway which produces the least hazard to small-wheeled vehicles (such as baby carriages and wheel chairs) and bicycles. While it is possible to form flangeways in paving material adjacent to T-rail, it is necessary to make them wider than optimum so as to avoid damage to the paving due to abrasion by the back faces of the rail car wheels. Also, paving materials other than stone or concrete will eventually collapse into the flangeway under the impact of rubber-tired traffic.”

Tee rail is used for freight and non-street LRT lines that run on ballast base without other traffic types.  You can see the difference in the rails below.  The Tee rail is just that, a T.  And the girder rail embedded in the concrete has an indention to one side so that the wheel flange of the rail vehicle doesn’t grind up the concrete.  Additionally as TCRP 57 lays out,

Girder groove rail and girder guard rail sections are no longer manufactured in North America. Few girder rails have the minimal transit flangeway widths, which complicates the issue of railway wheel gauge and track gauge.